Wildcats bound for the White Mountains to take on the Round Valley Elks

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Morenci and Thatcher squared off in Lawson Stadium eight weeks after originally scheduled. Thatcher left with a 42-8 Black Region win and Morenci with a 1-3 home mark Oct. 11.

Fell 42-8 at home against Thatcher in last game

By Raymundo Frasquillo

EAGAR – The Joseph Garcia-coached Wildcats are in the White Mountains for a Black Region contest with the Eagar Round Valley Elks on Friday, Oct. 18.

Round Valley has a 9-1 advantage over Morenci in the previous 10 pairings (since 2011), including 2-0 in the post-season. The Elks have outscored the Wildcats by an average score of 36-9 (355-89) or by a 27-point margin.

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Several Pride Band alumni filled in to entertain the Morenci home crowd in the game against Thatcher last Friday. Jose Sauls (Class of 2017) sat in with the percussion section.

This season, the No. 5 ranked Elks (4-2 overall, 11.7606 rating, 1-0 region for 2nd) have scored an average of 31-27 (183-160) points per game or a 4-point margin. The four wins are 48-13 over Santa Cruz (Sept. 6), 38-35 over Gilbert American Leadership (Sept. 13), 21-7 over Saint Johns (Oct. 4), and 42-28 over Benson (Oct. 11). The two losses are 36-18 to Show Low (Aug. 23) and 21-16 to Phoenix Christian (Sept. 27).

Morenci (3-4, 0.7832, 0-1 for 4th), ranked No. 15, has been outscored by an average of 25-19 (172-130) per game or by a 6-point margin. The three wins are 42-0 over Tucson Santa Rita (Aug. 30) and 14-6 over Willcox (Sept. 12), both on the road plus 32-26 at home over Bisbee (Sept. 27). The four losses are 49-7 to Benson (Sept. 6), 28-7 to Santa Cruz (Sept. 20), 21-20 to New Mexico Bayard Cobre (Oct. 5), and 42-8 to Thatcher (Oct. 11).

The other region pairing this week is No. 10 Saint Johns (5-2, 5.5578, 1-1 region for 3rd) at No. 2 Thatcher (5-2, 14.1743, 2-0 region for 1st). The No. 19 Pima Roughriders (3-4, minus 0.1589, 0-2 region for 5th) have a bye.

Thatcher – 42 Morenci – 8

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Thatcher senior Spencer Stevens checks the coin referee Duane DeSpain will use prior to the mid-field toss.

The hardest working student-athletes were standard-bearers for both Thatcher and Morenci. They earned that right during the week in preparation for the game. The visitors had junior Michael McBride carrying the “T” while the home team had freshman Derek Saenz with the black “Morenci” and junior Adam Chacon with the red “Wildcats” banners, each selected by their coaching staffs.

A few visiting players were not in full uniform and one was on crutches. Head coach Ramon Morales mentioned the Eagles had been hit by the injury bug prior to kick-off.

The difference in the eight-week delay was evident. The 4-2 visitors brought a 26-17 (158-94) average score per game against a 3-3 home team with a 20-22 (122-139) average deficit. They also brought something else in October not on their roster in August, a proven quarterback and starting units, depth, and a higher age level.

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Thatcher junior quarterback Mark Wren breaks free for a few yards. On defense, the defensive back recovered a fumble in the end zone and returned it the length of the field for a second-half score. Thatcher prevailed 42-8 over Morenci.

It allowed Thatcher to march down the field at will, crossing into the end zone on each of its initial five possessions. The Eagles covered 40 yards in three plays using 1:01, 45 yards in one play using 16 seconds, 91 yards in six plays using 3:21, 60 yards in seven plays plus a 15-yard penalty using 3:09, and 78 yards in 10 plays using 4:56.

Junior quarterback Mark Wren ran in from 31 yards out, senior tight end Spencer Stevens turned a pass reception into a touchdown, junior running back Micheal McBride ran in from 45 yards out, junior running back Jack Dodge ran in from 11 yards out, and Wren ran in from 10 yards out. Each of junior Ammon Curtis’ conversion kicks split the uprights. Thatcher led 35-0 with 1:07 left in the first half.

On the other side of the line, Morenci went three-and-out, punting after losing four yards in 2:14; snapped five plays and punted after netting 35 yards in 2:43; turned the ball over on downs after gaining 47 yards in nine plays using 3:48; went three-and-out, punting after no gain using 55 seconds; and fumbled after getting 52 yards in nine plays using 45 seconds.

Thatcher had the ball for the final 1.5 seconds, opted to take a knee, and went into the locker room with a 35-0 halftime advantage.

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Morenci senior running back Carlos Bray dives for some additional yards against Thatcher. He added Morenci’s points, on a 59-yard run and the ensuing conversion run, with 1:09 left in the third quarter.

The Wildcats had won the mid-field coin toss and deferred to the second half. They started the final 24 minutes with an 80-yard challenge. The most yards gained on the evening, 54 in nine plays using 4:37, went for naught. A no-gain on 4th-and-7 after picking up a pair of first downs resulted in turning the ball over on downs.

Thatcher, with reserves in to gain experience, also turned the ball over on downs. The Eagles notched a pair of first downs, but an incomplete pass on 4th-and-31 after gaining 39 yards in nine plays using 4:25, gave possession back to the home team.

Morenci covered 65 yards in three plays using 1:42 during its seventh possession of the game. Senior running back Carlos Bray found some openings to go 59 yards to pay dirt. He added a conversion run to light up the Wildcats’ side of the scoreboard with 1:09 left in the third quarter.

Junior Maddux Martinez recovered a 2nd-and-4 fumble 44 seconds later. The Wildcats marched 62 yards in five plays using 2:00, but a fumble was recovered by Thatcher in the end zone and returned the length of the field for the games’ final TD. Wren went the distance and Curtis added the conversion kick. Thatcher led 42-8 with 10:06 remaining.

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Senior Matthew Harrington dropped sophomore running back Joshua Mangum behind the line for a loss. The Eagles ended their final possession by taking a knee with 20 seconds remaining.

Morenci gained five first downs while covering 59 yards in 15 plays using 7:24, but came up 15 yards short on 4th-and-24 to turn the ball over on downs.

Thatcher got the ball with 2:27 remaining, went 36 yards in five plays before sophomore reserve quarterback Wyatt Larson took a knee to wind down the final 20 seconds.

Morenci kept the ball nearly twice as long, had twice as many offensive snaps, and outscored Thatcher 8-7 in the second half.

During the post-game end zone meeting, first-year Morenci head coach Joseph Garcia lauded the Wildcats for “not giving up and competing until the end. It showed the kind of character you have,” he said.

For the game, the Wildcats kept the ball more than six minutes longer and earned 17 first downs to Thatcher’s 15, but, Thatcher covered 393 yards in 44 offensive snaps and scored six times compared to 360 yards on 61 snaps and one score by Morenci.

The Eagles made it seven wins in a row over Morenci, matching the 7-game win streak from 1985-91; three straight in Lawson Stadium and 13-6 there; and 30-9 overall since the 1982 season. Thatcher has averaged a score of 27-12 (1,047-467) per game or a 15-point margin during the same span.

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